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‘Two Brothers’ Blend Jewish Music and African American Spirituals

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Dmitri Gaskin, left, and Anthony Mordechai Tzvi Russell make up Tsvey Brider, which is Yiddish for "Two Brothers." They performed in April at Temple Beth-El on Birmingham's Southside community. (Adam Wiseman Photo)

By Kiara Dunlap

For The Birmingham Times

It was inspirational and inspiring, intriguing and illuminating.

Tsvey Brider, a unique blend of African American and Jewish culture, put on a wonderful concert recently at Temple Beth-El, one that the racially mixed audience clearly enjoyed.

Though the performers sang in three different languages – Hebrew, Yiddish and English — their universal message of inter-cultural joy and friendship transcended any translation barriers.

Even if you were not familiar with a particular language being spoken or sung while the artists were performing, you were still able to enjoy the powerful music and grasp the concepts of what they were singing about.

You could feel the passion they had not only for their music but also for the unique relationship and mutual respect they have for each other.

The Temple hosted these performers in a recent “Artists in Residence” weekend which culminated with a community concert on Saturday night at the conclusion of the Jewish Sabbath.

Tsvey Brider which is Yiddish, a traditional Jewish language, translates to “Two Brothers” – and that’s exactly how this performing duo came across as they lifted the sanctuary with a distinct blend of traditional Jewish music and African American spirituals.

The event drew a diverse audience from the community to experience the power of music and its ability to bring people together through a unique artistic type of music merging cultures, people and experiences.

Anthony Mordechai Tzvi Russell and Dmitri Gaskin make up the duo. Russell is an African American Jew who grew up in California and developed an interest in opera as a child.

Gaskin is a highly awarded and respected accordion player specializing in Jewish Klezmer music.  As a duo they’ve received awards including winning “Yiddisher Idol.”

The event kicked off with light refreshments and Kosher appetizers following a Havdalah service, which is a religious ceremony observed by Jewish people at the conclusion of the Sabbath.

Havdallah was an impactful way to begin. This is a beautiful, intimate and uplifting service that marks the start of the new week.  It is a way of worship that not only lifted Jewish hearts but also was uplifting for non-Jewish people in the audience. It was a perfect spiritual and musical backdrop for the start of the concert.

There were people in attendance who had never encountered Jewish music. For them, it was a new cultural experience that gave them an appreciation of Judaism, its culture and, by being there, the beauty of a Jewish sanctuary.

A fun moment that especially enlivened the crowd happened when performer Russell, in a playful way, waded into the crowd to dance with some of the women while Gaskin, an incredibly versatile musician, played an upbeat solo on his accordion. You could tell the ladies were loving it!

The duo’s music was a powerful reminder of the diversity of Jewish culture and the wide array of communities where Jews had lived, while also underscoring the enduring power of African American spirituals. The evening was a bonding of the two communities, while embracing a broad cross-section of people of all faiths and backgrounds.

The Artists in Residence weekend was a true celebration of the diversity and richness of human culture, and a testament to the power of music to unite and inspire people from all walks of life.

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(Kiara Dunlap, a recent graduate of Miles College, an HBCU in Fairfield, AL, interned jointly with Southern Jewish Life and the Birmingham Times, which has a focus on the city’s Black community.)